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Sri Lanka And China Strike A Chord At Boao Forum – Analysis

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Both struck an anti-West stance, with Gotabaya Rajapaksa calling for a new world order in which national sovereignty is respected and Xi Jinping calling for an end to the Cold War mentality.      

At the opening plenary of the Boao Forum for Asia on Tuesday, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Chinese President Xi Jinping took swipes at the West, each reflecting his country’s concerns vis-à-vis the West, though no country or group was named.

While the Lankan President sought from the Western powers respect for the sovereignty of independent States, Xi urged the West to shed its Cold War mentality and Zero Sum game and help bring about a world order reflecting the emerging multi-polar world and the evolving economic landscape (in which China has made deep inroads).

Gotabaya said that international relations have to have an “equitable and respectful foundation.” Independent nations could not be asked to sacrifice their sovereign status, he stressed.

“Maintaining a fair balance between national policies and international shared policies, norms and rules is essential. The sovereignty of independent states should in no way be undermined in the maintaining of this balance.”

Decrying the absence of opportunities for developing countries to participate in international economic decision-making, the Lankan President said: “We know that developing countries, irrespective of their contribution to the world economy, have to abide by a myriad rules, regulations, and governance structures, and yet cannot access the global rules formulation process. This is a regrettable situation.”

On Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, the President said: “Sri Lanka maintains a clear and vibrant foreign policy that seeks enhanced cooperation with all friendly nations, and in particular, its Asian neighbors, on equal and non-aligned terms. These principles are enshrined in our development policy framework, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.”

“I am therefore appreciative of the theme of this year’s conference, which recognizes the importance of strengthening global governance and international cooperation. It is essential that we strive towards a more equitable and respectful foundation for international relations

Calls for Investments

Saying that Sri Lankan needs foreign investments and not loans, Gotabaya said: “We seek the contributions of our international partners to aid this process. We do not seek to borrow, but to encourage investments. We have developed attractive policies for Foreign Direct Investments, including a favorable tax structure and other incentives.”

“We seek the support of the Governments of member countries of the Boao Forum to encourage more businesses from their countries to consider Sri Lanka as a destination for their investments. We particularly seek to attract investments in export-oriented industries that will have a beneficial impact on our economy.”

China Praised

Singling out China for praise, the Lankan President said: ” Through centuries of rich history, Sri Lanka and China share a strong strategic collaborative partnership based on mutual respect, trust, and cooperation. I appreciate the support rendered by His Excellency Xi Jinping and the Government of China to Sri Lanka, in vital areas of Sri Lanka’s well-being.”

Xi’s Plea

In his oration, Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “World affairs should be handled through extensive consultation, and the future of the world should be decided by all countries working together. We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.”

“What we need in today’s world is justice, not hegemony. Big countries should behave in a manner befitting their status and with a greater sense of responsibility.” Given the globalized world, countries need consultation “on an equal footing to create a future of shared benefits,” he said.

“Global governance should follow the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, uphold true multilateralism, and make the global governance system more fair and equitable.”

“We need commitment to justice to create a future of mutual respect and mutual learning. Diversity is what defines our world and makes human civilization fascinating,” he said.

Calling for openness in international dealings, Xi said: “In this age of economic globalization, openness and integration is an unstoppable historical trend. Attempts to erect walls or decouple, run counter to the law of economics and market principles. They would hurt others’ interests without benefiting oneself.”

Shed Cold War Mentality

The Chinese President said that it is time countries shed their Cold War mentality. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made it all the more clear to people around the world that we must reject the cold-war and zero-sum mentality and oppose a new Cold War and ideological confrontation in whatever forms.”

“In state-to-state relations, the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual trust must be put front and center. Bossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs would not get one any support. We must advocate peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, which are common values of humanity, and encourage exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations to promote the progress of human civilization,” Xi said.

The Chinese President called for the safeguarding of the UN-centered international system, preserving the international order underpinned by international law, and upholding the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core.

Benefits of BRI

Calling for the promotion of international partnership through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Xi assured that the BRI is “a public road open to all, not a private path owned by one single party.”

He further said: “All interested countries are welcome aboard to take part in the cooperation and share in its benefits. Belt and Road cooperation pursues development, aims at mutual benefits, and conveys a message of hope.”

He quoted a World Bank report which said that by 2030, Belt and Road projects could help lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million people from moderate poverty across the world.

On Global Health   

Xi sought full play for the World Health Organization (WHO). “It is important that we bolster international cooperation on the R&D, production and distribution of vaccines and increase their accessibility and affordability in developing countries so that everyone in the world can access and afford the vaccines they need.”

“It is also important that we take comprehensive measures to improve global governance on public health security and work together for a global community of health for all,” he said. 

Xi pledged to build closer partnership in health. “Chinese businesses have already started joint vaccine production in BRI participating countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey. We will expand cooperation with various parties in infectious disease control, public health, traditional medicine and other areas to jointly protect the lives and health of people in all countries.”

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P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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